‘Politically motivated waste’: Labor calls for end to pork barrelling

The overwhelming imbalance in discretionary grant funding flowing into Coalition seats shows a budget “riddled with politically motivated rorts and waste”, Labor has claimed.

But Nationals backbencher Matt Canavan says a lot of the money has gone to drought-stricken communities doing it tough.

Anthony Albanese said “the pork barrelling is just out of control”.Credit:Louise Kennerley

An analysis by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age of more than 19,000 grants across 11 programs found Coalition seats received $1.9 billion in three years while Labor electorates got less than $530 million.

There were huge discrepancies between the nation’s 151 electorates, with the boundary of a seat sometimes separating voters from millions of dollars in funding for their community.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s Sydney-based seat of Grayndler received $718,000 in grants. The neighbouring seat of Reid, the most marginal Liberal electorate in NSW, received $14.8 million.

“The pork barrelling is just out of control,” he said on Wednesday morning.

“Taxpayers don’t pay different rates of tax according to what electorate they’re in.”

He predicted “a frenzy in the lead-up to the election campaign” in further spending from discretionary grant programs.

His shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, and finance spokeswoman Katy Gallagher said the government couldn’t give any more lectures about responsible budget management.

“One of the reasons why the Morrison government had multiplied the debt even before the pandemic, and why there’s a trillion dollars of debt now, is because Josh Frydenberg’s budget is absolutely riddled with politically motivated rorts and waste,” Dr Chalmers said.

Senator Canavan, from Queensland, noted many of the electorates that received the largest amount of funding had been afflicted by drought.

Senator Matt Canavan said a lot of the money has gone to drought-stricken electorates.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

“Invariably though, those country electorates that are most impacted by drought are actually held by Liberal and National member,” he told the Today Show on Nine, owner of this masthead.

“That’s just always been the geography of politics in this country, they tend to be more conservative areas.”

However, two key marginal seats – Corangamite in Victoria and Braddon in Tasmania – were also among the 10 best-supported electorates in the country, receiving $55.2 million and $83.4 million respectively.

The drought communities program was included in the analysis because projects are identified by the minister and invited to apply.

There were also stark differences in the treatment of urban seats in every capital city, which weren’t eligible for the drought-related grants.

For instance, Dave Sharma won back Wentworth for the Liberals in 2019 after independent Kerryn Phelps’ brief incumbency. That seat, one of the smallest and wealthiest in the country, received $33.5 million in grants. The neighbouring Labor seat of Kingsford Smith received just $4.1 million.

Mr Sharma said the overwhelming share of community funding was security-related because Sydney Jewish institutions were heavily concentrated in Wentworth.

“The expert security advice is that these institutions are, unfortunately, at risk. I believe the first duty of any government is to keep its citizens safe, and this is exactly what the safer communities program is funding,” he said.

The largest grant in Wentworth was $16.5 million for the Sydney Swans. Mr Sharma argued that while the AFL team might be based in his seat, it should be seen as a Sydney-wide investment.

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